Giannis Antetokounmpo’s performance in the NBA Finals to beat the Phoenix Suns was epic.
Giannis was only the second player in NBA history to close out a clinching game with 50 points (see Bob Petit, 1958), and only the second to have three 40-point/10-rebound games in an NBA Finals series (see Shaq, 2000). It was as “clutch” a performance as any in NBA Finals history. It wasn’t his first dominant series this playoffs.
In Game 7 OT game vs. The Nets in the second round, Giannis (40 points, 13 rebounds) had an epic duel between Kevin Durant (48 points) where both players carried their teams on their backs. In that series, Giannis scored 30 or more points in 6 of 7 games, and did it on 58 percent shooting from the field.
The difference in that series came down to injuries to Nets star players and then KD’s big toe. Had it been just a half-inch further back from the 3-point line in his shot with 1-second left in Game 7, there’d be no Finals glory for Giannis.
According to the NBA media’s handbook on “winners” and “greatness,” Giannis’ clutch performance in the second round would be null and void.
In a sports media universe where clicks trump context, many of the very same media people who are praising Giannis today would be denouncing him as “not a winner” on factors as arbitrary as KD’s big toe.
But if the definition of eternal greatness comes down to KD’s big toe, shouldn’t we redefine greatness?
Can’t we collectively imagine that Giannis would still be great without a 50-point performance in the NBA Finals to end that debate for good?
How about this theory: Giannis was already an all-time great, but until now he lacked the luck and support necessary to win a title?
That changed this year with key additions of Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, P.J. Tucker; Khris Middleton’s playoff-performance leap this year; and a mostly healthy playoff roster, an anomaly in 2021. And when Giannis did get injured for two games, Brook Lopez rescued the Bucks in Game 5 against the Hawks with 33 points on an absurd 78 percent shooting (14-18).
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